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Rice Co. farmer who visited Cuba tells officials of potential

Rice Co. farmer who visited Cuba tells officials of potential
By Amy Bickel The Hutchinson News abickel@hutchnews.com

To make a point, Doug Keesling puts it in this perspective as he talks
from his wheat farm in Rice County about lifting the Cuban trade embargo:

A $200 million opportunity passes by Kansas and the nation every year.

And that’s just for wheat.

On Tuesday, Keesling told members of the Senate Agriculture Committee,
chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, these facts.

Such a windfall would be beneficial to a state whose staple crop is
wheat. Cuba imports about 30 million bushels of wheat each year from the
European Union — about 10 percent of the Kansas wheat crop.

“We are doing more harm to ourselves and our producers than the Cuban
people,” Keesling said from his farm Wednesday after returning from
testifying in Washington, D.C.

He added: “It is not Cuba keeping us out; it is us keeping us out.”

It takes the European Union two weeks to ship a barge of wheat to Cuba,
he said. But the United States is just 90 miles away, “and we are
selling them zero.”

Journey to Cuba

Keesling was one of four Kansans on a four-day learning journey to Cuba
that began March 1. Others traveling to the country included former
Kansas Farm Bureau president Steve Baccus; Nina Lilja, associate dean of
International Agriculture Programs for the Kansas State University
College of Agriculture; and Jaret Moyer, with the Kansas Livestock
Association.

They were a part of a larger group sponsored by the U.S. Agriculture
Coalition for Cuba.

Bringing an end to the decades-old embargo holds potential to provide
access to a new market for U.S. producers, which, besides wheat,
includes beef, farm equipment and other products.

“From what I could see, there is a lot of potential in Cuba,” Keesling
testified. “As a Kansas wheat farmer, that potential was obvious every
time a meal included bread. Cubans eat a lot of bread and are the
largest wheat importer in the Caribbean.”

Keesling said he and the other representatives met with farmers,
cooperative leaders and government officials to learn about initiatives
being undertaken in Cuba to boost food production. Leaders, however,
stressed significant challenges exist as these markets are developed.

Barriers

Keesling said in his testimony Tuesday that when some of the
restrictions on U.S. agriculture exports were lifted about 15 years ago,
farmers were excited that there would be an opportunity to re-establish
Cuba as a consistent wheat market.

Exports peaked at about 18 million bushels in 2008. Exports tanked over
the next few years and the United States hasn’t exported anything to
Cuba since 2010.

Cuba largely imports hard red winter wheat, he said. In the United
States, 40 percent of this market is grown in Kansas — making Kansas a
potential big player in the Cuba export market.

“But it is practically very difficult for Cubans to import wheat grown
in Kansas, and apparently much easier to import wheat grown in Canada or
France,” Keesling told senators. “I can put my wheat in an elevator in
Kansas, send it by rail down to the Gulf of Mexico and put it on a ship
that’s just a couple days away from the Havana harbor. But my wheat is
still going to lose out to wheat that has to be on a boat for a week
from Canada or two weeks from France.”

Keesling said Wednesday the problem is rules that make it too expensive
for the United States to compete. Last year, President Barack Obama
tweaked the law, which previously made payment due before the ship was
even loaded. The law now requires that exporters receive cash before
they are allowed to unload in a Cuban port.

Selling on credit isn’t an option for them, Keesling told congressional
leaders.

Changes in Cuba

Keesling said Wednesday he saw the Cuban countryside on his trip,
including visiting tobacco, livestock, fruit and rice operations. He
also sees changes in the social climate, moving away from a military
attitude to a economic one.

He sees potential for barriers to be broken, noting that U.S. senators
seemed receptive. He noted Roberts, along with Sen. Jerry Moran,
R-Kansas, have been proponents of easing restrictions with Cuba for years.

Don’t light up a Cuban cigar just yet to celebrate. Keesling said House
leaders haven’t studied the issue much.

“They need educated,” he said. “They need more education on Cuba and the
issue.”

Source: Rice Co. farmer who visited Cuba tells officials of potential |
State Ag News | kansasagland.com –
http://www.kansasagland.com/news/stateagnews/rice-co-farmer-who-visited-cuba-tells-officials-of-potential/article_4106bcba-99df-5963-b4b0-699471c7ac6d.html

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